Here in America’s northeast, tomatoes worth eating are finally starting to trickle into the farmers’ markets. Like all the greatest joys of summer, the pleasure of eating a ripe, in-season tomato is a simple one: a drizzle of olive oil and a scattering of salt is all it needs. (On crusty grilled bread, it’s borderline sublime.) But there is one really easy way to ruin these juicy, sweet, sun-kissed fruits, and that is to put them in the refrigerator.
A vine-ripened tomato’s subtly musky flavor—that slight earthiness that makes a tomato slice such a genius component in a BLT—comes from an enzymatic reaction that produces sulfuric aromas, according to Harold McGee‘s scientific food reference book On Food and Cooking. And although those sulfuric aromas are what can make a rotten tomato smell so pungently foul, we should really resist the urge to refrigerate them.
McGee writes that tomatoes originally came from a warm place—the deserts of South America’s west coast—and therefore shouldn’t be stored at arctic temperatures. A tomato subjected to a refrigerator’s cold climate stops producing its aroma-making enzymes and starts to lose its flavor. And while refrigeration evangelists would be right to say that a little bit of that flavor can seep back if the tomatoes return to room temp, you’re likely to end up with a weak-flavored, mealy tomato—especially if it wasn’t fully ripened before it went in the fridge.
We say: better to risk letting the tomato go bad than to chill its magical flavor-making enzymes into inaction in the refrigerator. Or, better yet, just go ahead and eat it.